Editor’s Note: This post was written by Guest Writer, Seth T. Hahne. Besides commenting incessently here, he also occasionally blogs at Nowheresville, USA.
As a Christian and something of a minor connoisseur of creative product including-but-not-limited-to literature, cinema, music, games, and comics, I am frequently concerned by the inappropriate reaction the American Christian subculture foments against imaginations it either misapprehends or flatly distorts by reason of dogma alone. Quite plainly, I live a life of frustration and cynicism—and not frustration and cynicism brought about through my noble struggle against a cruel and oppressive reality, one forged by children of the serpent, sons of Cain and Lamech and Agag.
That would be too simple, too straightforward. Too, perhaps, modern. We live in supposedly postmodern times and so the villains of my life story likely cannot be those who wear black and twirl moustaches. Obvious antagonists don’t any longer strike us as realistic, so my villains wear the camouflage of camaraderie. Those who assault me are those I call brothers.
But then, the first killer was the killer of his brother, so I suppose I get off easy merely being frustrated and disappointed by my brothers. After all, in a more modern world, Michael Karounos might be trying to kill me as well as hurt me in my heart.
Michael Karounos is (according to fifteen minutes of Googling) an assistant professor of English at Trevecca Nazarene University, where I imagine he does not intentionally hatch schemes designed to thwart my sense of peace with the world around me. Intentions aside, however, he has done very well at this one particular activity. He also participates in the Journal of Religion and Film, betraying a point (or two) at which our personal interests converge. It is in Karounos’ interest as a reviewer of film that he has demolished my hope in humanity for this week.
Which is perplexing because, from what I gather, he’s not necessarily a bad sort. I mean, he praised Steamboy, after all. (Though to be fair, he does seem a little too hurt by that film’s quote-unquote anti-Christian message; why is it that anything that treats cultural Christendom with criticism—or let’s be honest, with anything less than fanboy’s adulation—automatically becomes an entrenched anti-Christian message?)
In any case, Karounos was brought to my attention earlier this week in that he wrote a supposedly amusing review of the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Neil Gaiman, at least, found it amusing (“Funniest Coraline review ever“). Now Gaiman has no paucity of followers and so within minutes of him advertising for Karounos’ review, the page was pretty thoroughly crashed. He then linked to the Google cache that the hilarity might continue unabated.
In my soul. From embarrassment. I do this whenever some member of our diasporous community says ridiculous things and those things are tied to the name of Christ. I do this a lot. Or at least a lot more than I feel I should. With Karounos, I feel the sting even more since from reading a little of his work over the past couple days, I feel like he shouldn’t be the one making me this frustrated. He should know better.
But maybe that makes it worse.
In any case, in his review of Coraline, Karounos so thoroughly misinterprets the film that he ends up railing against a movie that doesn’t really exist. He sees slights against his (our) faith in every crevice of the film. He even sees them on its surfaces.
In the book, the Other Mother punishes Coraline: “You needed to be taught a lesson, but we temper our justice with mercy here; we love the sinner but hate the sin.” The speech is clearly a slam at the kind of home where mothers cook and fathers work and parents speak of “sin” and “sinner” and “mercy” and “justice.” It is the kind of home that atheists imagine Christians live in: a Stepford Family reality of puppet people with no creativity or individuality.
Rather than take the most plain-faced view, that the scene demonstrates that even the most innocuous or kindly words can become chilling when put in the mouths of monsters, Karounos works on the belief that Gaiman is lashing out, as if Coraline was his opportunity to say, “Take that, Stupid Christianity!” Karounos implies as well that the Other Mother’s domestic-goddess qualities shine forth an atheist’s vision of hell, one in which domesticity is a stand-in for Christianity and as such is intolerable and terrifying—forgetting that it was the domesticity and creativity and verve of the Other Mother and Father that made them desirable, that made them a picture of heaven (a picture that rotted only when the facade of these heavenly things could no longer be maintained).
The evil is a mother who cooks and cleans and the good is a rejection of that mother.
Additionally Karounos sees a film fraught with misogyny, perversion, and celebrated family dysfunction (“Gaiman’s perverse view of relationships, an atheistic view of family”), speaking more perhaps to fundamentalist hang-ups than to any actual content in Coraline‘s. He even goes so far as to imply motive for laughter on the parts of children in attendance.
[The film] portrays a naked Miss Forcible as a strip dancer wearing a sequined thong and stripper’s pasties on impossibly huge breasts. The children in the audience cried out their disgust in tones of amusement and surprise, as if to say, “So that’s what they look like without any clothes!” It is a deeply misogynistic image which will elicit disgust in any Christian viewer, regardless of age.
Not only was the scene not misogynistic (deeply or otherwise), but it failed to elicit disgust in any member of the group of Christians with whom I attended the screening (myself and six females with ages ranging between 15 and 28). Further, none of the many children in the audience seemed disgusted either. It should here be noted that the supposed naked woman is actually just a full-body suit that the actual woman is wearing—making her, if anything, the exact and total opposite of nude.
Karounos, at final tally, has many more complaints about the film than any moderate-sized article can treat, but please suffice it to say that he misapprehends the film with nearly every criticism. He concludes that “Coraline is a bad movie for children and a disturbing movie for adults” and so he demonstrates society’s typical inability to grasp childhood and perhaps offers glimpse into the make-up of his own fears, calling attention to what disturbs him personally.
In the end, I suppose this isn’t so much about problems with a single reviewer’s interpretation of a film, but more about how we should respond and react to such opinions when they not only run deeply counter to our own experience and belief but then follow to become points of embarrassment to the faith we cherish so strongly and of derision to those who stand apart from our community. Karounos’ perception of the film, Coraline, was far enough off-base from Gaiman’s intent or Selick’s production that Gaiman goes on to characterize by implication the reviewer as insane. Karounos’ grip on reality aside, the review does come off as hysterical and, being published by an overtly Christian endeavor (ChristianAnswers.net publishes a large number of Karounos’ reviews), adds more bitterly to the perception of Christians as being those divorced from reality and absented from sensible interaction with reality’s produce.
How is it that we are to deal with living in a world in which the things we love are tarnished by inside hands? How are we to deal with a Christianity that seems intent on devouring itself? Whether we are considering poorly conceived film reviews, a so-called Christian music scene that leaves little room for anything but unoriginal pap, or a publishing empire that produces more dross than the Penny Dreadfuls of yesteryear, I suspect that cynicism and frustration, while cathartic, are not the healthiest solutions.
We recognize that the church is comprised of those who run the spectrum of mental prowess, from the nigh-unto-genius to the intellectually lamed. There is little we can do about that for, after all, people are people and few will measure the high water mark. Patience and charity, I suspect, are important—but simultaneously we recognize the need for keeping accountable those who do the name of Christ harm by their public quote-unquote ministry. So how does the balance unfold? In all reality, there is nothing that a single individual can do in the face of reviews like Karounos’ Coraline treatment or of Movieguide’s desired return to a Hayes-Code-era system of Hollywood morality. So what? A counter-offensive built on better responses to cultural produce? A personal life devoted to living intelligently and circumspectly and tying the name of Christ to one’s success? Prayer that the bad would stop? Or just a stubborn resignation that brothers will continue to bring mockery upon the brotherhood while maintaining thankfulness that one’s antagonizer is merely a Karounos and not a Cain?